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Attorney Advertising and Professional Responsiblity

California |

Can a California law firm pay an online media company a marketing fee per lead it delivers to the law firm if it broadcasts a TV commercial for the law firm directing it viewers to either call a phone number or to access a website that contains a contact form?

Attorney Answers 4

  1. In New York, that would constitute illegal fee-splitting (sharing of legal fees with a non-attorney). I'm going to take a guess that all states would prohibit it. Hopefully a California attorney on this site will follow up with an opinion.

  2. Good question. I, for one, don't have a clear answer.

    This might be covered by Rule 1-320(C) of the California State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct, which states:

    "A member shall not compensate, give, or promise anything of value to any representative of the press, radio, television, or other communication medium in anticipation of or in return for publicity of the member, the law firm, or any other member ....".

    However, the "comments" section under Rule 1-320 also states "Rule 1-320(C) is not intended to preclude compensation to the communications media in exchange for advertising the member's or law firm's availability for professional employment."

    I don't know if what you're suggesting is materially different than listing oneself with Google Adwords, where you pay a fee for each "click through" you receive ... and a number of lawyers do that.

    If you are a lawyer asking this question, I suggest you phone the State Bar's ethics hotline.

  3. No, that is called "capping" and you get suspended from the state bar for doing it and if you do it more than once you can lose your license forever.

    The only exceptions are if the leads are provided by another attorney or a referral service approved by the state bar of california.

  4. A non-lawyer may not solicit clients for lawyers in California in a manner that a lawyer is barred from doing. In other words, if I can not do what you suggest for myself, I cannot hire anyone else to do it either. I am not sure that the television-website-contact form is prohibited - I can run advertisements and ask people to check my website and communicate with me. The pricing issue becomes pretty sketchy though, and I am also worried about the nature of the solicitation. Before doing this you should get really familiar with the ethics rules and the cases that have interpreted the rules.